Onychoschizia n. The splitting or delamination of the nail plate, usually at the free edge.

What They Are

Commonly known as split nails, onychoschizia can occur horizontally or vertically on the nail plate. Peeling nails is a horizontal split of the layers of the nail past the free edge, and vertical separation is usually what is referred to as splitting nails.

According to Doug Schoon, vice president of science and technology for Creative Nail Design, “The nail cells at the top of the plate are usually one or two months older than the cells at the bottom of the nail plate. That’s why you generally get splitting at the top of the nail plate and not the bottom of the nail plate.”

Nails can split for a variety of reasons, and the splits can be temporary or permanent. “Generally, the most likely reason permanent splits occur is damage to the matrix area,” says Schoon. “That often happens from some kind of physical damage to that area.”


When the nail plate is dehydrated, nails are more likely to peel and split or fray at the edges. The nails may break and become more fragile and easily catch on clothing.

Splits that are temporary eventually grow past the free edge of the nail. If, as the nail continues to grow, the split does as well, this is usually a sign of permanent damage to the matrix.

“If it’s from physical trauma, it will often be accompanied by splinter hemorrhages,” says Schoon. “That’s another sign of physical trauma to the nail bed.

“The other thing you may see in the beginning is white spots in the nail plate. They will grow out past the free edge, but the split itself can be permanent and stay there for the rest of your life (but only if the damage to the matrix is severe).”


Permanent splits are caused by serious injury or damage to a small section of the matrix. The injury or damage will not add to the thickness of the nail plate and may create a thin, weak strip running the entire length of the nail plate. Thus, the width of the damaged area determines the width of the split. The nail can grow as two separate plates if the damaged matrix runs from the front to the back.

Temporary splits are often linked to occupations. Clients who have prolonged and repeated interactions with water are more susceptible to onychoschizia. The splits and peeling can be caused by too much moisture in the nail plate; when the moisture is repeatedly present and then dries, the nail plate constantly swells and contracts, which eventually leads to the split.

Because of the constant and repeated exposure to water, cosmetologists, pool lifeguards, waitresses, dishwashers, and florists are at a higher risk of splitting nails that will occur on many nails and be temporary.

Also, clients who frequently wash their hands with soap and water dry out their nail plates, and peeling is more commonplace.

Another cause of temporary splits is the weather. In cold months, the nail plate is more likely to become dehydrated. As the nail plate contracts with the lack of moisture, splitting occurs.

How to Treat Them

To prevent splitting, clients should wear gloves when using cleaning agents and detergents. They should also avoid trauma to the nail; nails are not tools. They are not to be used to open soda cans or as a screwdriver.

If splitting has already occurred, at-home care can involve using a daily hand moisturizer. The oils don’t moisturize the nail plate; only water can do that. But the moisturizers will help seal the surface to prevent excessive evaporation. Schoon also stresses that those with split nails should avoid using nail hardeners. “If your nails are already dry and split and brittle, you don’t need a nail hardener,” he says. Instead, he instructs split-nail sufferers to choose something like a hot oil manicure treatment that penetrates deeply.

Considerations for Nail Techs

In most cases you can conduct your manicures as you normally would. You may even be able to help your clients solve the problem with your nail-savvy skills. “If it’s just a partial split, put an overlay on it, and that will keep it from splitting back further,” says Schoon. “If it’s a permanent split, you can still put on an enhancement, as long as the nail bed isn’t exposed.”

Overlays help keep the split together until it grows past the free edge. If you opt for an acrylic overlay, apply a thin overlay to the entire nail, not just the area with the split; otherwise, the chances of the acrylic prematurely coming off are higher.

Fiberglass or silk wraps are another option to help your clients’ nails heal, but wraps do not adhere as well to splits on the side of the nail. They are a better option for splits in the middle of the nail; wraps on side splits may leave a piece of the wrap flapping around.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.

Read more about